Pietro Biroli

Pietro Biroli, Prof. Dr.

Assistant Professor of Economics




Short bio

Pietro Biroli is an assistant professor of Economics at the University of Zurich. He obtained his PhD in economics from the University of Chicago. He is also affiliated to the UBS Center of Economics in Society, and research affiliate at the Jacobs Center for Productive Youth Development at UZH, IZAfRDB, and HCEO.

His research focuses on the early origins and life cycle evolution of health and human capital. He explore the importance of genetics, family investment, and early childhood interventions in explaining health and economic inequality.

Brief listing of research interests

Health Economics, Labor Economics, and Applied Econometrics.

Current Projects

Gene-Environment Interplay in health behavior
Research suggests that 85% of early deaths are due to behavior, genetic predispositions, and social circumstances, while only 15% are due to shortfalls in medical care, and environmental exposures. In this project, we focus on the alleged three largest contributors: behavior, genetics, and social circumstances. We seek to test the hypothesis that a protective socioeconomic or policy environment moderates the effects of high-risk genetic variants for smoking and obesity, evaluate how such GxE interplay varies over the lifecycle and how it contributes to health disparities, generate policy-relevant information, and when possible investigate mechanisms that underlie GxE interplay.

Genoeconomics “Genoeconomics” is a new field at the intersection of genetics and economics focusing on social and economic phenotypes (Benjamin et al., 2007; Beauchamp et al., 2011). In this project, we pursue two complementary strategies. One is discovering specific SNPs associated with economically related phenotypes, such as risk aversion. To increase detection power, we pursue this strategy with a consortium of datasets from the Social Science Genetic Association Consortium (www.ssgac.org) which has a joint sample size of well over 500’000. Our second strategy exploits the uniquely rich economic information collected in some social-science datasets to shed light on the molecular genetic architecture of a range of economic outcomes. We apply recently-developed statistical methods that use the information contained in the whole SNP data and are thus well-powered.

Maternal Depression
Depression is the largest contributor to Years Lived With Disability, lowering productivity, and increasing crime. Maternal depression afflicts 12-20% of women, with potentially persistent impacts on their futures, and their children. Causal evidence and, similarly, longitudinal evidence of this is scarce. Our study is set within a randomized control trial in which peer volunteers deliver a sustained programme of positive-thinking to women depressed in pregnancy. We gather longitudinal data linking behavioural choices to outcomes for women and children, and assessing the intervention. We investigate evidence on mechanisms by which maternal depression influences a woman’s empowerment and decision-making. Furthermore, we plan to collect and analyse biological responses to a community-based intervention, using cortisol and epigenetic expression, over a period of five years.

Selected publications

Contact info

University of Zurich
Department of Economics Schönberggasse 1
CH-8001 Zürich

Office: SOF-H13
Phone: +41 44 63 46 106
pietro.biroli [at] econ.uzh.ch